Most of the time, an operating system should be invisible. It should do its work behind the scenes and not get in your face. But every so often, you have to dive into the belly of the beast. That’s when you expect the operating system to be clairvoyant, to provide exactly the information you want, with a minimum of clicks.
The reworked Task Manager in Windows Vista includes a new feature that’s almost invisible – until you need it. For anyone trying to troubleshoot performance problems or identify a potential malware installation, one small change is especially useful.
In previous Windows versions, the Task Manager separates its display of what’s running on your computer into two tabs. The Applications tab lists each running program by name; the Processes tab is a much longer list that shows every executable, including child processes, services, and processes that run in the background.
In Windows XP, you can right-click on any item in the Applications list and choose Go To Process from the shortcut menu. But once you reach the Processes tab, you’re at a dead end. If a process is sucking the life out of your CPU, or if you find a mysterious process that you can’t identify that you think may be associated with malware, you’re on your own. You have to use search tools to find the file responsible for that process and then figure out what it is.
Windows Vista simplifies this process. When you right-click any item on the Processes list, you’ll see two new choices on the shortcut menu.
Click Open Containing Folder and you can see the file responsible for the running process. Often, just knowing which folder it appears in is enough to help ease your mind about a process with a mysterious name. The Properties menu choice, also new in Vista, leads directly to a greatly expanded Details tab, which includes copyright information and additional details about the company that created the file, which can help you decide whether a file is legitimate or needs further investigation.
The big changes in Windows Vista are getting most of the publicity, but there are dozens, even hundreds of smaller changes like this one embedded throughout the operating system. In this case, at least, the change is welcome.